I feel so lucky. I must have said this a dozen times yesterday as Andy and I were settling in to our volunteer posts in Ubud for the Readers and Writers Festival—one of the top literary gatherings in the world. Each October here, dozens of fantastic authors from Louis de Bernieres to Kate Adie converge in a setting that couldn’t be more enchanting: mossy stone temples line the narrow streets, morning vendors sell bags of lustrous marigold blossoms and bougainvilleas petals for the morning puja—or prayer—rituals. Beautiful and simple meals are served up on banana leaves.
We arrived at the Festival and met up with Gabe, the volunteer coordinator. She’s a fan of Andy’s Biotruck Expedition and invited us to stay at her house where we’d have our own room, kitchen, Internet, laundry, and showers. She drew us a map, handed us the key, and soon we were steering our rented motorbike through rice paddy fields and coconut palms that flank the road to Gabe’s house.
The past three weeks have unfolded just like this—idyllic, easy, synced-up. At Timbus, we happed on great paragliding conditions and flew for hours along the coastal bluffs. In Pandang Padang, the white sand waters were the just perfect temperature and we swam around in the craggy coves for hours before dozing off in the Bali sun. But, in the end, these were just the minor boons of good weather and timing. Where our good luck really shined was on our train ride across Java.
We were moving slow the morning we were to depart–so slow that we almost put off leaving until the next day. But we arrived at the station on time and embarked on the over-night trip to Serabaya. We passed the 12 hours eating cashews and noodle soup, shuffling through our ipods, and joining a 2 a.m. karaoke session in the “restaurant” car. We screamed Sweet Child of Mine into the microphone while passengers curled up like cats around our stools, somehow sleeping through our bleating imitation of Axel Rose.
We arrived safe, but the same train the following day–the overnight train to Serabaya and the same one we’d have been on had we loafed a bit longer–got off on the wrong track and collided with another train, toppling carriages, injuring dozens, and killing 36. Holy shit, Andy said spreading the front page of the newspaper across the breakfast table, showing me the graphic photos of the tragic wreckage, the quotes from traumatized survivors. That could have been us.
From the start, Andy and I have gotten along preternaturally well—so well that even our differences seem charming. We haven’t tired of mimicking each others accents–him exagerrating the nasaly “a” of the American accent so that I come off sounding like a mallard, and me poking fun at the prudish way he refers underwear as “knick-knocks” and calls pants “trousers.”
These are cultural differences, but there are personal ones as well. After a year of driving his biodiesal bus halfway around the world, he’s learned how to rough it and make-do and can jerry rig repairs on his engine with a pen knife. Meanwhile, I have a meltdown if my dress zipper gets caught or the handle of my wheeled suitcase gets jammed. Come mealtimes, he is content as a monk sipping watery broth at street stalls, while I run about scouting for bakeries that sell crossiants and lattes. I compliantly pull out my wallet when presented with a bill, whereas Andy double-checks the math and enters the seven stages of mourning. I complain constantly about the heat, while he stoically endures. All the same, we’re well-matched companions, picket-fence wary vagabonds, pilots, writers, peers, and just fundamentally get each other.
On our first evening in Ubud, we unpacked and I rummaged up something nice to wear. Come nightfall, we got to attend the festival’s exclusive opening gala to watch a traditional Balinese performance of Vegas proportions—a nonstop parade of gilded outfits and choreography. We ended the night clinking complementary glasses of wine at Casa Luna and swaying around to live music.
But, ack. great as it’s been, good luck always makes me nervous. Bad luck I understand. When I am slogging for months in some depressed state, I figure it’s something I brought on myself, that I’m “doing time” for some past offense. But when things start too feel a little too idyllic, I feel undeserving and brace myself for a fall, for the other shoe to drop. Always a seed of dread contaminates my happiness.
In Bali, the ephemermality of luck is well-recognized. The other day, my taxi driver tapped my 30,000 rupee fee on the dashboard to ensure a lucrative day. And, each morning, the Balinese place offerings of rice and blossoms in front of their door to court good fortune from the gods. This afternoon, as we wheeled the motorbike over dropped frangipani blossoms on the road leading to the Festival, I wondered: what ritual, chant, or stick of incense could I light to keep our good fortunes going?
I leaned over Andy’s shoulder and shouted over the engine noise: I feel so lucky.
But I don’t think Andy gives much credence to luck, preferring to think he steers his own fate as deftly as he plied the motorbike around the stray dogs and morning vendors that obstructed the road. He replied in this manner of his that I’m still trying to decide is either a sort of charismatic arrogance or just plain good self-esteem.
We are not lucky, darling, he shouted back to me. We are good.